Maternal Depravation Studies at UW Face Serious Criticism

PD Supervisor Al Matano Stands Up for Animal Rights

Written by Matt Kozlowski, Co-Chair

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dane County has a long and controversial history when it comes to the intersection between animal research and animal rights at the state’s flagship university. The latest continuation of this controversy centers on Dr. Ned Kalin’s proposed maternal depravation study. The experiment will utilize newborn primates to study the impacts of intentional separation from the animal’s mother on the monkey’s mental state.

Experiment Protocols and University Oversight

As required by the United States Animal Welfare Act, any experiments involving animal research must undergo review by an internal oversight body composed of various members including ethicists and scientists--Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) in UW-Madison’s case. Kalin, the chairman of UW-Madison’s Department of Psychiatry, initially submitted his research proposal to the IACUC back in 2012 where it was met with objections by Rob Streiffer, a member of the IACUC and bioethicist at the University, and advocacy groups throughout Dane County. Due to such concerns, the research was never taken up, and the proposal was required to be resubmitted to the committee for further review. However, in a departure from this process, the IACUC decided instead to pass the decision on to a subcommittee and protocol information was only shared with two members of the IACUC. Critics of Kalin’s research have cited such a process as being in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

According to the protocol, 20 baby monkeys will be separated from their mothers shortly after birth and placed in isolation with only a stuffed cloth for comfort. From this point, the baby monkeys will undergo a series of brain scans and other examinations to examine neurochemical effects. As the experiment continues, the monkeys will be subject to a series of strenuous situations including the “Human Intruder Paradigm” and exposure to live snakes until the monkeys reach 18 months in age, where they will be euthanized to collect brain tissue samples.

Dane County Board Fails to Take a Stance... For Now.

2014 Res-275, authored by PD Supervisor Al Matano, calls on the University to halt such research and encourages further public dialogue surrounding the issue. However, unless further action is taken by the County Board as a whole, the resolution will never reach the County Board agenda, due to actions taken by the Executive Committee. In a packed room in the City/County Building, opponents ranging from bioethicists, researchers, parents, animal rights activists, attorneys, university alumni, and the Humane Society of the United States gathered to testify in front of the committee, which is usually a procedural step in County procedure. Some of the key arguments presented during testimony included the lack of community dialogue surrounding Dane County’s primate research involving over 9,000 primates (one of the highest in the country), the disconnect between UW’s research trends and similar institutions such as Harvard where such research has been ceased, and the morality of conducting such research on defenseless animals.

Rather than allowing discussion and debate on the resolution, which has already received 12 co-sponsors, the County Executive Committee decided to table the resolution indefinitely, effectively ending the process for the proposal. However, there are still options for reviving the resolution and continuing debate. With further action from 1/3 of County Board members, the resolution can be brought directly to the floor, allowing for more dialogue. Stay tuned for further updates on this issue.